World If Iraqi-Kurdish tension blows up, Kirkuk will be the fuse

17:21  13 october  2017
17:21  13 october  2017 Source:   CBS News

Iraqi forces take control of Kurdish-held areas in Mosul's Niveveh's province

  Iraqi forces take control of Kurdish-held areas in Mosul's Niveveh's province Iraqi forces have taken control of areas previously held by Kurdish forces in Mosul's Nineveh province in northern Iraq, a military statement said on Wednesday. The areas were evacuated by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters before the arrival of the Iraqi forces on Tuesday, the statement said. The Peshmerga had taken them over the past three years as part of the war against Islamic State militants.The Mosul Dam, northwest of the city, is among the positions retaken from the Peshmerga, the military statement said.

If Kirkuk blows up , Iraq might fracture along ethnic and sectarian lines.” Ethnic tensions simmer beneath Kirkuk ’s outward calm. Turkomen try not to look at Kurdish police, who patrol the city in trucks with heavy machine guns.

If tension between Baghdad and Erbil escalates further, Kirkuk may prove the first flashpoint between P.M.F. and Peshmerga forces. Iran’s news defense minister has said that Tehran will work more closely with Baghdad to confront Iraqi Kurdish leaders who see independence.

FILE - FILE - FILE - A Peshmerga convoy drives towards a frontline in Khazer, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen): ap-16362472018749.jpg© Bram Janssen, AP ap-16362472018749.jpg

LONDON -- If the tension between Iraqis and Kurds in the country's north truly blows up, Kirkuk will be the fuse.

Insert obligatory adjectives here: the disputed, oil-rich, bitterly divided, flashpoint city of Kirkuk.

It's potentially a big problem for American interests in the region; both sides in the long-running argument are key U.S. allies.

Both the Iraqis and the Kurds were instrumental in the defeat of ISIS, and both suffered heavy losses as a result.

Watch: Iraqi Kurds vote overwhelmingly for independence

When Kurdish Peshmerga forces battled and beat ISIS back in 2014, the territory they took over included Kirkuk. By that time the Iraqi army had infamously fled.

Iraq: After losing Kirkuk, Kurdish forces pull out of Sinjar

  Iraq: After losing Kirkuk, Kurdish forces pull out of Sinjar Iraq's Kurdish fighters have lost more territory in Iraq, a day after Iraqi forces pushed them out of the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk.In the town of Sinjar, commander of the local Yazidi militia, Masloum Shingali, says the Kurdish forces left before dawn on Tuesday, allowing Shiite-led militiamen who are fighting with Iraqi forces to move into the town.Shingali says there was no fighting and that the Kurdish forces "left immediately, they didn't want to fight."Town Mayor Mahma Khalil says the Popular Mobilization Forces, a predominantly Shiite militia coalition, is securing Sinjar.

Tensions in Kirkuk have risen in recent weeks as the rhetoric between the Kurdish leadership and Iraq 's central government escalates. Kurdish forces took over the city of Kirkuk in 2014, when the Iraqi army fled fighting during the Islamic State's offensive in northern Iraq .

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The "Pesh" have been there ever since, much to the dismay of Baghdad.

But when the Kurds voted for their independence in a non-binding referendum last month, the Iraqi government repeated its demand that Kirkuk be handed back. In essence, the Kurdish military presence should withdraw and hand the city back over to Iraqis.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said, repeatedly, that there is no intention of retaking the city by force, saying again this week: "we will not use our army forces against our people or fight a war against our Kurdish citizens"

But on Thursday, the vice president of (semi-autonomous) Kurdistan, Kosrat Rasul, announced the deployment of 6,000 more troops to the region in response to what he called "threats" from the Iraqi government, "including tanks, artillery, Humvees and mortars."

The Latest: Iraq media say troops enter area held by Kurds

  The Latest: Iraq media say troops enter area held by Kurds <p>Iraqi state media say federal troops have entered disputed territories occupied by the nation's Kurds.</p>2:50 a.m.

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Kirkuk is one of them. Arshad Al Salhi, a member of the Iraqi parliament and the head of the Iraqi Turkmen “It will also increase tensions between Arab, Turkmen and Kurdish residents creating a civil war in Kirkuk ,” he said. BAGHDAD — Japan has agreed to lend Iraq up to 5 million for a

Watch: U.S.-backed militias close in on ISIS' self-proclaimed capital Raqqa

Friday morning, alarm bells started ringing. News agencies began to report that the Iraqi military had launched an operation to retake Kirkuk.

Almost immediately, Iraq's Joint Operations Command vigorously denied those reports.

Our sources on the ground say what's triggered the alert had more to do with a redeployment of Iraqi forces in the region.

Around two weeks ago (Oct 5th), the Iraqi military finally defeated remaining ISIS militants in what was the last ISIS stronghold of Hawija, a city not far from Kirkuk.

Having threaded the needle between those two cities myself not long ago, I can attest to the extreme caution we were advised to take traveling anywhere near. Just a couple of months ago, ISIS was everywhere.

With Hawija back under Iraqi control, CBS News sources say, Iraqi troops have now redeployed east of Hawija to regions nearer Kirkuk.

That caught the attention of Kurdish forces in the region, which is why the alarm bells began ringing.

It would be premature to call it a standoff. Or even a front line. But it is a military buildup of both Iraqi and Kurdish forces which has left them just lobbing distance from one another -- and all in a country where there are more U.S. troops deployed now than there have been since the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011.

So if tensions between Iraqis and Kurds truly blow up, Kirkuk will be the fuse.

Iraq recovers bodies of plane crew shot down by IS .
Iraqi forces have found the bodies of two of the crew of a plane shot down by the Islamic State group last year, the air force said on Tuesday. The Cessna 208 Caravan was downed over the northern town of Hawija, a former jihadist bastion which was retaken by government forces last week."The bodies of two of the crew killed in the crash of their Cessna Caravan in Hawija in March 2016 have been found," the air force said.

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